Daniel Zemans, our man in Chicago, checks in with another piece of intel on the Windy City pizza scene. Daniel also blogs about Chicagoland pizza with his friends on the Chicago Pizza Club blog. --The Mgmt.
I have never been one to mind the cold, but when I went to Pizano's last Thursday, it was in the middle of an approximately 36-hour period where the temperature did not go above zero. And that's not counting the wind chill, which was somewhere around 25 below. The cold made it impossible for me to keep my camera from shaking while I took a picture of the outside of the restaurant, but it did nothing to diminish my enjoyment of one of the best pizzas in the country.
Pizano's Pizza and Pasta was founded in 1991 by Rudy Malnati Jr., son of the man who was instrumental in the early success of Uno's (reviewed here for Slice). Pizano's goes so far as to claim that Rudy Malnati Sr. invented deep dish pizza, citing a 1956 Chicago Daily News article but the article actually claims Malnati established Uno's, which is definitely inaccurate (that honor goes to Ike Sewell and Ric Riccardo). Regardless of who invented deep dish pizza, there is no question that Rudy Malnati Sr. played a huge role in its success, not only through his work at Uno's and Due, but by teaching his two sons the craft that would enable them to start two of the best pizzerias on the planet, Lou Malnati's (reviewed here for Slice) and Pizano's.
Pizano's Pizza & Pasta
864 N. State Street, Chicago IL 60610 (map); 312-751-1766
Getting There: Red Line to Chicago Avenue, walk a half block north
Pizza Style: Deep-dish and thin-crust
Oven Type: Gas
The Skinny: Perfectly balanced deep dish pizza that's thinner than most
Price:$20.30 for a medium 12-inch deep-dish pizza with two toppings
Like Lou Malnati's, Pizano's also pays tribute to Chicago sports history with pictures of various athletes all over the walls. While Malnati's definitely has more memorabilia, Pizano's actually has gone a step further, naming one of its pizzas after Hall of Fame Cubs broadcaster Jack Brickhouse. The "Hey Hey" Jack Brickhouse special, which I ordered, is a deep dish pie with sausage and mushrooms. The thin crust version of the same pizza is named after Jack's wife, Pat. One note about Pizano's thin crust, which I have never had: According to Rudy Malnati Jr. in a 2006 Chicago Sun-Times article that I can't link to, thin crust outsells deep dish at Pizano's three to one.
The first thing you will notice about a Pizano's deep dish pizza is that it is not that deep. The back crust is about an inch thick, which is thin for a deep dish pizza. The bottom crust is abnormally thin for the style. I did not have a ruler, so I measured with coins and found the bottom crust to be about as thick as three quarters. But whatever the crust lacks in heft, it more than makes up for in taste. The buttery, corn mealy crust is spectacular, slightly crumbly and slightly crispy. And did I mention buttery? I did, but there's so much buttery goodness that it must be mentioned twice.
The sausage was excellent - very flavorful with a good fatty chew. The mushrooms were fresh and, like the sausage, were generously applied. The sauce, which is little more than crushed tomatoes, is well-seasoned and adds a delicious fruity tang to the pizza. Unlike most deep dish pizzas, the sauce does not cover every inch of the pizza. But that worked on this pie, and I think that is related to the thinner crust. In addition to less crust, Pizano's has less cheese, less sauce and fewer toppings than traditional deep dish pies. The result is an incredibly balanced deep dish pizza that is not nearly as heavy as the other top deep dish pizza offerings. Because of that, I think Pizano's may be the ideal deep dish pizza those unfamiliar with the genre should use to start educating their palates.
I'm far from the only one who sings Pizano's praises. Penny Pollack and Jeff Ruby of Chicago Magazine wrote Everybody Loves Pizza, and included their list of the ten best pizzerias in the U.S. Apparently they were so determined to avoid charges of hometown bias that they only included one Chicago pizzeria on their list. The one they chose was Pizano's. Oprah and Gayle have anointed Pizano's as Chicago's best thin crust and one of the best pizzas in America. And Slice's own DJ Bubbles (where are you Bubblicious?) is on record as saying Pizano's is his favorite Chicago-style pizza.
Pizano's has three locations, one in the loop, one in the northern suburb of Glenview, and the original location, which is where I went, two blocks west of the North Michigan Avenue shopping district.
Burt's Place: Home of the Pizza King of Chicago
Lou Malnati's: Home of Flawless Deep Dish
Pequod's: Come for the Carmelized Crust, Stay for Great Pizza
Uno's, Chicago's Original Deep-Dish Pizza
Art of Pizza, Usually a Classic, But Not This Time